For today's preschool children, who will come of age at the beginning of the 21st century the world is going to be an even smaller and more rapidly changing place than it has been for their parents and grandparents. To prepare children for this, it is important that parents help them to feel at home beyond the immediate family circle and community. To some extent, even in these very early years, they should begin to think of themselves as citizens of the world.
For me, the adventure of opening up the wideness of the world to my child began in the unlikely setting of a suburban shopping mall. At a book fair there my three-year-old son found a small volume containing the flags of the world. Using this, together with a globe we already had at home, Ben and I began to study the names, flags, and locations of a number of the world's countries. In a short time he was able to identify the flag of each nation and then find the nation on the globe. (Even before they are able to read, children can learn rapidly this way.) We then proceeded to learn the names of the continents and to decide whether a country was flat or mountainous by running our fingers over the topological surface of the globe.
Another good parent-child project is a post card collection. Pictures of places in this country and abroad can be taped or glued in a scrapbook, then labeled. Friends and relatives are often willing to send post cards to a child or contribute those they have received themselves.
If you live in a big city, you are surrounded by people from other parts of the world, and a young child can be made aware of this in a positive and natural way. This could include learning to use chopsticks in a Chinese restaurant or visiting a Greek cultural festival.
Even small communities often include individuals of other nationalities. Or a nearby college or university may have foreign students who would like to be invited for dinner with an American family. These young people are far from their families, and an invitation can benefit them as well as the host family.
There are many organizations whose purpose it is to bring together individuals of different nationalities in a variety of ways. Participation in such programs could include anything from inviting foreign visitors for tea to being host to a young person in your home for a year. And when children are older they can have pen pals.
Even if preschool children do not actually have the opportunity to meet people from other cultures, they can still begin to learn about them. Public libraries have books about children in other countries, and UNICEF publishes sets of colorful, inexpensive cutouts of children from various nations, which include brief stories about the children.
It is never too early to begin to share this richness with children, and to help them develop a confident attitude with which to venture forth into the world.